National Mobility Awareness Month Partners:
VMI

Ken Brooks

Lebanon, NJ

Entry Photo for Ken Brooks - Lebanon, NJ

Ken Brooks was on the road to being a hero long before we met and married nearly 37 years ago. He became a quadriplegic due to polio at the age of 2, but always met the inconveniences of his disability with incredible creativity and tenacity. Despite the physical challenges, he became nationally and internationally competitive in track (with a unique one-armed pushing style), in field, and most of all in table tennis. With his outstanding record of performance in the latter, he became a 25+ time national champion, even competing in classes above his disability class. His national and international performance earned him a spot in the then Wheelchair Sports, USA Hall of Fame, as well as being named the 1996 Wheelchair Athlete of the Year in Colorado Springs. His efforts in wheelchair sports went beyond competiton. He coached some developing new players into current Paralympic status, was a coach and mentor to some of the first Junior wheelchair athletes in the country in 1979, before a Junior program was officially recognized by the then NWAA, and served as a founding member and officer of the NJ State Wheelchair Sport Commission, which assist in distribution of grant funding to wheelchair sports programming around the state. When his disability progressed due to post polio and orthopedic challenges, he became the USA’s first former USATT para player to become a para table tennis classifier and the first trained by the International Table Tennis federation. But, Ken’s meeting a challenge extends well beyond sports. When confronted with things he was told he could not do, he met and surpassed the challenges, from being the first (and only) student in Dewitt Clinton HS in New York in a wheelchair and subsequently its valedictorian, and admission to a highly competitive undergraduate and graduate program at Columbia University. When told at age 19 he would not be able to drive due to the severity of his upper limb weakness by Rusk Institute, Ken designed and had built a unique system, using a forearm trough and universal joints to be control push/pull controls with his shoulder! These continued to be his means of driving for over 40 years. Now with progressive weakness and 2 surgeries, Ken drives with a Digi Drive van. This prevents easy sharing of driving however, and a second vehicle which would permit others to easily drive him the plan in addition.